JCPenney was as soon as a procuring big. Can it make a comeback?

New York
CNN Enterprise

Marc Rosen did not flinch when he was supplied the highest job at JCPenney final yr.

A stalwart of twentieth-century retail for middle-class People in search of inexpensive clothes and residential furnishings, JCPenney has struggled for greater than a decade and fell out of business shortly after the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

However Rosen, a retail veteran who beforehand labored at Walmart and Levi’s, mentioned he “didn’t have any private hesitancy in any respect” about attempting to revitalize the 120-year-old model and defend JCPenney from extinction like Barney’s, Lord & Taylor, Century 21 and different shuttered retailers.

“I imagine in taking up giant scale transformation,” Rosen, 54, instructed CNN Enterprise in a video interview this month. “There was a possibility to essentially take this model and make it related once more.”

Rosen is staking his turnaround plan on interesting to “America’s numerous working households.”

The everyday buyer at JCPenney has a median family earnings of between $50,000 to $75,000. Roughly 30% of the retailer’s clients are Black, Indigenous and folks of shade, based on the corporate, a bigger share than many opponents

JCPenney CEO Marc Rosen took over last year.  He is trying to regain working-class customers.

So JCPenney is chasing these consumers with an overhauled magnificence technique after an extended partnership with Sephora ended. It has transformed shops and added new main manufacturers and private-label clothes and residential furnishings’ labels. The corporate has additionally improved its expertise and on-line expertise to attract extra on-line gross sales. Only a quarter of JCPenney’s gross sales are on-line, trailing rivals.

Rosen mentioned clients now are procuring at JCPenney extra continuously, the primary time that has occurred for the model in years, and it is regaining market share in key departments equivalent to dwelling items. (JCPenney doesn’t get away gross sales publicly.)

However there are indicators of strain: visits to all JCPenney shops had been down 29% as of October from the identical time a yr in the past, based on knowledge from In October, visitors to JCPenney’s web site elevated only one.26% from a yr in the past, based on knowledge from SimilarWeb.

Now, a yr into Rosen’s tenure, he faces his largest check at JCPenney but: the vacation procuring stretch. And it comes at an unsure second for the US financial system and consumers.

JCPenney faces a critical holiday shopping season.

The corporate mentioned it is off to a powerful begin to the vacation season. However JCPenney’s foremost clients are feeling strained by the very best inflation in 40 years they usually have proven indicators of pulling again on discretionary items—the majority of what JCPenney sells.

Rosen additionally needed to dig out from years of mismanagement and failed methods on the firm.

The corporate faces unrelenting strain from a lot bigger retailers equivalent to Amazon


(WMT) and Goal


(TJX)the proprietor of TJMaxx and Marshalls and different “off-price” retailers which have undercut the malls’ mannequin by promoting designer manufacturers at cut price costs.

“The long run goes to be a difficult one as a result of it is tough for malls to navigate, even beneath one of the best circumstances,” mentioned Erin Schmidt, a senior analyst at Coresight Analysis, a retail advisory and analysis agency. “The competitors is basically fierce.”

JCPenney began because the Golden Rule, a dry items retailer, in Kemmerer, Wyoming, in 1902.

its founders, James Money Penney, shortly expanded the enterprise and by 1917, there have been 175 shops, later renamed JCPenney. By 1929, on the eve of the inventory market crash and the Nice Melancholy, JCPenney had 1,000 shops.

Its shops had been recognized for his or her low costs. Merchandise might be bought solely with money, not on credit score.

JCPenney survived the Melancholy and by 1950, Fortune Journal declared the corporate the “King of Mushy Items.” Penney himself turned often called the “Man with a Thousand Companions.”

By the point he died in 1971JCPenney had greater than 1,600 shops, many in newly-built suburban malls, and was the fifth largest US retailer.

However the firm’s mid-market enchantment was examined by rising competitors in the course of the Eighties and Nineteen Nineties. Low cost shops together with Walmart and Goal unfold, stealing away JCPenney’s budget-conscious clients.

The corporate was hit laborious by the Nice Recession in 2008. It misplaced consumers to low cost shops and struggled to deliver them again because the financial system started to rebound.

JCPenney was a retail powerhouse during the twentieth century.  But it has struggled for more than a decade.

By the top of 2010, JCPenney’s gross sales had fallen 10% from their 2006 excessive of about $20 billion, and the corporate attracted the scrutiny of hedge fund supervisor Invoice Ackman. Ackman purchased up a bit of Penney and put in Ron Johnson, Apple’s former head of shops, as CEO.

With out testing consumers’ reactions first, JCPenney beneath Johnson modified its commercials, its emblem and its retailer designs.

The chain ditched prime private-label manufacturers with loyal followings and launched new ones that had little relevance to its middle-income clients. And it ended coupons, a transfer that alienated loyal consumers.

JCPenney’s gross sales plunged $4.3 billion in 2012, a 25% drop from the earlier yr. Johnson left in 201317 months into the job.

The corporate cycled by means of a number of CEOs and techniques within the following years and introduced again home equipment for the primary time in a long time, a transfer that did not resonate with clients. The corporate was unprofitable yearly starting in 2011 and its gross sales fell annually beginning in 2015.

In Could of 2020, quickly after the Covid-19 pandemic started and JCPenney was compelled to briefly shut shops, the corporate filed for chapter after 118 years in enterprise.

On the time, JCPenney had greater than 800 shops and 85,000 workers.

JCPenney has round 670 shops right this moment and has little debt for the primary time in years.

The corporate is owned by mall landlords Simon Property Group

(SPG) and Brookfield Asset Administration

(BAM). The 2 companies rescued JCPenney out of chapter for $1.75 billion within the fall of 2020. It was their curiosity to take action. JCPenney was a key tenant at tons of of malls and a liquidation would have left vacancies of their procuring facilities.

Through the chapter course of, JCPenney restructured its debt and closed greater than 200 shops.

Rosen mentioned JCPenney now has the monetary flexibility to put money into upgrading its expertise, provide chain and revamping shops beneath its new house owners.

Mall owners Simon and Brookfield bought JCPenney out of bankruptcy.

“That alignment with possession is essential, particularly as you are going by means of a change that requires important funding,” he mentioned.

As an alternative of chasing new consumers, as a number of of Rosen’s predecessors tried to do, he has constructed a method centered on convincing present budget-focused clients to go to extra continuously and purchase a wider array of products at JCPenney as a substitute of different shops.

The corporate is attempting to spotlight merchandise and providers like hair salons and household portrait choices that resonate with its core working-class households. Academics are the primary career amongst its clients, so JCPenney has targeted on guaranteeing shops have clothes they need to put on to work.

JCPenney’s 14-year partnership with Sephora resulted in 2020 and it has began to exchange many Sephora outlets with new magnificence departments. Roughly 20% of the merchandise in new magnificence areas come from a partnership with 13 Lune, an e-commerce firm that options manufacturers began by founders of shade.

“Prospects need to see manufacturers that had been delivered to them by the Brown and Black founders, they usually need to see manufacturers that look related to their pores and skin sorts,” Rosen mentioned.

Retail consultants say that JCPenney is bettering beneath Rosen and his technique to focus on completely different clients than opponents is shrewd. Shops are higher lit than they had been earlier than the chapter and prime distributors are promoting merchandise to the corporate once more.

“Lots of people within the trade wrote them off,” mentioned David Katz, chief advertising officer at Randa Attire & Equipment, which makes Levi’s, Dockers, Haggar and different manufacturers. “At the moment, they’re a superb accomplice. We’re giving them much more monetary credit score than we used to. We’re creating extra merchandise for them as a result of we’ve got confidence they’re going to be capable to promote it successfully.”

JCPenney and other department stores have been squeezed by competition in retail.

Nonetheless, JCPenney faces each short-term challenges and long-term questions on its survival.

Inflation is squeezing clients, significantly its middle-income consumers. It isn’t the one retailer going through that downside – Kohl’s mentioned final week that its middle-income clients are shopping for fewer gadgets once they store and switching to non-public manufacturers.

Rosen mentioned that extra JCPenney clients are shopping for the corporate’s lowest-priced merchandise and switching to its cheaper non-public manufacturers. The corporate plans to supply some merchandise at 2019 costs in the course of the holidays, together with its St. John’s Bay cable sweater.

The larger query stays whether or not there’s a place for JCPenney within the altering period of retail and if it could actually appeal to youthful clients.

Stiff competitors has taken a toll on your entire division retailer panorama, together with Kohl’s


(JWN) and Macy’s


JCPenney cannot solely depend on successful extra companies from present consumers with restricted discretionary skills, mentioned Schmidt from Coresight. The chain wants to draw new consumers, too. However successful new clients has by no means been more durable.

“They’re doing a little actually good issues when it comes to their positioning,” Schmidt mentioned. “However the division retailer is a tricky place to be. It is going to be a difficult highway.”

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